David Denby, a movie reviewer, argues that Ted Cruz is a villain right out of old-time Hollywood central casting

David Denby is a New Yorker movie critic.  He also fancies himself as a political commentator.  To him, Hollywood is the real world, the template against which everything else is compared.  Reading his reviews, it’s obvious that, like the yearning kid watching Fred & Ginger trip lightly across in the screen during the Depression-era 1930s, he wishes life could be like the movies.  His dream movies are the ones where Republicans and corporations are vanquished, and people live in harmony in the loving arms of a properly Progressive big government.

I stopped reading Denby aeons ago, because he is neither fish nor fowl — neither a good movie reviewer nor an intelligent political commentator.  I’ve always assumed that his sinecure at The New Yorker came about because he doesn’t show up Anthony Lane, who is a superb movie reviewer, and he makes the right political noises in his reviews.

So that you know I’m playing fair and not simply maligning Denby on principle, both because I dislike The New Yorker and because I dislike what he now has to say about Ted Cruz (more on that in a moment), here are excerpts from posts I wrote several years ago regarding Denby’s malicious politicism, which he worked into way too many movie reviews.  The first excerpt is from a post I wrote in 2006, when I was still agnostic about global warming, but I could tell even then that Denby wasn’t a movie reviewer but was, instead, a propagandist.  I’m quoting from the first post at length, both because it so perfectly exemplifies Denby’s world view and because, that, seven years after Al Gore’s movie thrilled the true believers, the facts on the ground (and in the ocean and in space and on the sun) prove how completely wrong he and the sycophantic Denby were:

Denby’s review of An Inconvenient Truth is even more political. Look at the very first paragraph:

Anyone in possession of a major truth that he can’t get others to accept begins to feel that he’s losing his mind. [That may explain so much about Al Gore’s recent behavior. –ed.] The skepticism he meets turns him into a soreheaded obsessive. After a while, he becomes “pedantic,” and then, inevitably, “condescending” and “humorless.” [Thus, it’s not that Gore is, in fact, pedantic, condescending and humorless. We, the skeptical public created this Frankenstein’s monster. In the words of the old song, he’s more to be pitied than censured.” — ed.] Al Gore has been in possession of a major truth about global warming for than than thirty years [Gore’s prescience was impressive because the era more than 30 years ago was the global cooling fear phase, a phase that occurred when we didn’t have the current measurements we do regarding global warming. -ed], and he has suffered the insults of political opponents, the boredom of ironists, and, perhaps, most grievously, the routine taunts of a media society which dictates that if you believe in anything too passionately there must be something wrong with you [The point being that there’s obviously nothing wrong with Gore, it’s just that the media doesn’t understand him — which really is strange, because I live with the idea that this same media has accepted entirely his view of global warming. –ed.]

Denby then goes on to describe a movie that, if it were about anything other than global warming, would get laughed off the screen. Even Denby acknowledges its faults:

[Gore] appears as the noble-browed warrior of englightenment, brooding over the ravaged earth and the weakness of man, once or twice too often. He mentions family tragedies, which were moving to me, but which strike some viewers as maudlin notes from a campaign biography.

Fear not, though, since “the faults of the movie, semi-excusable as self-vindicating ploys, are nothing compared with its strengths.” The strengths, though, make it sound like one of those appalling 8 mm films we slept through in high school in the 1970s:

For long stretches, Gore is photographed talking before an audience with the aid of slides and charts. There are side trips to fissured ice caps, disappearing glaciers — the snows of yesteryear — and expanses of newly parched and broken terrain. The science is detailed, deep-layered, vivid and terrifying. Every school, college, and church group, and everyone else beyond the sway of General Motors, ExxonMobil, and the White House should see this movie. [Get it? Evil corporations, evil oil, and the foul Texas Christian in the White House are incapable of understanding Gore’s greatness or simple science. –ed.] [Bolded emphasis mine.]

Denby isn’t shy about calling the movie what it is: “It’s great propaganda.”

But in Denby’s mind, what’s really great about the movie is how it shows the human side of Al Gore (and you thought he didn’t have one). Thus, Gore “speaks in an intimate voice that we’ve never heard before.” When Gore talks about lying by a river, and keeps coming back to that image after global warming holocaust pictures, “it has a greater resonance.” Denby claims that Gore has learned to speak in a less annoying way. Listen to this and tell me whether you believe that. The rhythmic up and down of Gore’s speech — a rhythm that has nothing to do with emphasizing or deemphasizing actual content — is both soporific and bizarre.

But here’s the real kicker. Denby assures us that the movie demonstrates that Gore has been purified in the crucible of past experiences:

[O]ne has the impression of a complex personality that has gone through loss, humiliation, a cruel breaking down of the ego, and then has reintegrated itself at a higher level. In the movie he is merely excellent. But in person . . . he presents a combination of intellectual force, emotional vibrance, and moral urgency that has hardly been seen in American public life in recent years.

Watch out, Hillary. It’s Saint Al for President.

Every dog’s allowed one bite, and perhaps every movie critic should be allowed one polemic.  But Denby isn’t just any movie critic.  He’s a Progressive shill making sure that his movie reviews advance his political agenda.  Also in 2006, he open-mindedly praised Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center, despite the fact that conservatives liked it.  Honest.  Here’s what he wrote:

“World Trade Center” is about courage and endurance as a function of family strength; it’s about suburban and small-town America trying to save the big city. Those are conservative themes, much praised for their appearance in this movie by the kind of right-wingers who have long hated Oliver Stone. Some of the euphoria—Cal Thomas, a columnist and a commentator at Fox News, calls the movie “one of the greatest pro-American, pro-family, pro-faith, pro-male, flag-waving God Bless America films you will ever see”—is not only inane, it’s enough to turn you off moviegoing [sic] altogether. Can “World Trade Center” really be that bad? No, the ideologues laying hands on the movie won’t sink it.

The last David Denby movie review I read was his slobbering, wide-eyed take on Spike Lee’s When The Levee Broke, about Hurricane Katrina.  The view was less interesting for his boringly predictable Bush/conservative bashing, than it was for his starry-eyed fan-girl love for all of the most despicable characters on the Left.  In my post on the subject, I quoted Denby directly, but added in hyperlinks giving actual facts about the Leftist “luminaries” that left him quivering with excitement:

Keeping his own voice largely absent and his presence invisible, he [Lee] finds the city’s tattered survivors. He also consults a variety of lawyers and local politicians, and such luminaries as Harry Belafonte and Al Sharpton; the musicians and New Orleans natives Wynton Marsalis and Terence Blanchard (the latter wrote much of the beautiful music for the film); the historian Douglas Brinkley, who makes impassioned critiques of Bush Administration officials and the Federal Emergency Management Agency; and the Mississippi man (a doctor) who publicly advised the Vice-President, when he visited the area long after the storm, to go fuck himself.

My take on that review was that Denby has set a goal for himself:  He wanted to be the next Frank Rich.  Rich, as you may recall, was the theater critic for the New York Times who proved to be so adept at anti-conservative rhetoric that he was given a permanent gig as a political opinion writer.  His opinions were reliably fact-free, but Rich made up for that deficit with his splendid grasp of florid invective, all of it aimed at George Bush.

In his continued journey towards Frank Rich-ness, Denby has now penned an opinion piece that aims to be a dagger to Ted Cruz’s heart.  Because no one in his right mind could call Cruz stupid, Denby has opted for describing him as the ugliest person since the elephant man.  Moreover — and this is the important part — Cruz’s outer ugliness is the physical manifestation of his inner dishonesty.  In this bootstrap argument, Denby doesn’t bother to give actual examples of Cruz’s dishonesty (because he can’t).  For him, Cruz’s looks are proof enough:

When Ted Cruz lies, he appears to be praying. His lips narrow, almost disappearing into his face, and his eyebrows shift abruptly, rising like a drawbridge on his forehead into matching acute angles. He attains an appearance of supplication, an earnest desire that men and women need to listen, as God surely listens. Cruz has large ears; a straight nose with a fleshy tip, which shines in camera lights when he talks to reporters; straight black hair slicked back from his forehead like flattened licorice; thin lips; a long jaw with another knob of flesh at the base, also shiny in the lights. If, as Orwell said, everyone has the face he deserves at fifty, Cruz, who is only forty-two, has got a serious head start. For months, I sensed vaguely that he reminded me of someone but I couldn’t place who it was. Revelation has arrived: Ted Cruz resembles the Bill Murray of a quarter-century ago, when he played fishy, mock-sincere fakers. No one looked more untrustworthy than Bill Murray. The difference between the two men is that the actor was a satirist.

Not only is Cruz a liar, he’s also a demagogue, says Denby.  You have to be Denby-clever, though, to figure this one out, because Cruz is too ugly to be your traditional demagogue:

Cruz is not as iconographically satisfying as other American demagogues—Oliver North, say, whose square-jawed, unblinking evocation of James Stewart, John Wayne, and other Hollywood actors conveyed resolution. Or Ronald Reagan—Cruz’s reedy, unresonant voice lacks the husky timbre of Reagan’s emotion-clouded instrument, with its mixture of truculence and maudlin appeal.

Not convinced yet that Cruz, despite his evil looks is a lying demogogue?  Well, Denby has other arrows in his quiver.  Cruz is also smart.  He always has an answer.  That proves what a lying liar he is:

Yet Cruz is amazingly sure-footed verbally. When confronted with a hostile question, he has his answer prepared well before the questioner stops talking. There are no unguarded moments, no slips or inadvertent admissions. He speaks swiftly, in the tones of sweet, sincere reason. How could anyone possibly disagree with him? His father is a Baptist, and Cruz himself has an evangelical cast to his language, but he’s an evangelical without consciousness of his own sins or vulnerability. He is conscious only of other people’s sins, which are boundless, and a threat to the republic; and of other people’s vulnerabilities and wounds, which he salts. If they have a shortage of vulnerabilities, he might make some up.

I won’t quote any more, both because of Fair Use principles and because I feel as if I’m sullying my site by doing so.  (I’m sure it won’t surprise you that Denby drifts into comparing Cruz to Joe McCarthy.)  Moreover, I think I’ve made the point, which is that Denby is a political opinionator who runs everything through old-time Hollywood central casting.

In the old movies, especially the silent movies, Hollywood had to rely on visual cliches as a shorthand to character development.  The hero was square-jawed and often, in the Gary Cooper mode, silent (hence the “strong silent type” trope).  Meanwhile, the villain was greasy-haired, shifting eyed, and quick-witted in an evil way.  As The Incredibles proved to such wonderful comedic effect, villains “monologued.”

In Denby’s narrow, Progressive, Hollywood constrained world, Cruz is Snidely Whiplash brought to life, not because of anything specific that he says or does, but simply because, in Denby’s telling, Cruz fits the visual requirements for a stock Hollywood bad guy:

Cruz and Whiplash

To the Left, Obama’s political purity is made manifest because of his brown skin and white smile. It should therefore come as no surprise that, to the looks-obsessed Leftists, Cruz, who cannot be denigrated as a mental lightweight, must be painted in the most brutal physical terms. I expect that the Left’s next step will be some 21st-century version of phrenology, with Progressive hacks sagely opining that the shape of Cruz’s head, or the bumps upon it (especially the ones that the Left assumes are there, hidden under his hair), prove his mental deviancy and unfitness for office.

Well, two can play at the looks game, so I’ve got a little rogue’s gallery of Progressives.  While they’re not the stuff of nightmares, each could easily play a villain in old Hollywood’s central casting system.  (I don’t know why my Picasa chose to include Clinton twice in this collage.  I just rolled with it.):

Progressive rogues gallery

One last thing. If physical beauty is Denby’s standard for ideological purity, let’s just say that Denby falls quite short of his own standards. However, if you called Central Casting and asked them to send over a bombastic, narrow-minded, supercilious, faux-academic, you might just see David Denby show up on your movie set:

David Denby

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  • Texan99

    Then he’d be disappointed if he hung out on the comments boards of low-brow websites like popular newspapers, where a popular comment lately is “I guess Ted Cruz was right.”


    Never heard of Denby. Never read anything he has written until today. My guess is that his obituary will not run as many words as your post.

  • Charles Martel

    Book, your piece reminded me of a scene in the 2005 film “Serenity,” which continued the saga begun in the cult classic TV series, “Firefly.” In “Serenity,” Summer Glau plays River, a strange, spacy telepath whom none of the other crew members on Serenity can quite figure out. It’s not until near the end of the movie that River’s purpose becomes clear.
    It turns out that she has been designed as a weapon against a race of mutated humans, the Reavers, sadistic, cannibalistic pirates who roam space looking for plunder, pillage, and rapine. In a climactic scene, River is somehow locked behind a huge metal door to face a ravening horde of Reavers by herself. The Serenity crew members can only listen helplessly at what might be going on beyond it.
    Finally, they are able to pry open the door to see what has happened to poor River. But there she stands, surrounded by the corpses of hundreds of Reavers, all of whom she has killed with her bare hands.
    My point: Denby = Reavers; Book = River.

  • http://bookwormroom.com Bookworm

    Awww!  Thank you, Charles.

  • Gringo

    I go out for drinks on Friday night with a friend who is a yellow dog Democrat. His talking point of the week pretty well parallels the Demo talking point of the week. For example, just after there were reports that the Clintons were going to throw Anthony Weiner under the bus, he volunteered a putdown of Anthony Weiner- which he never did two years ago during the brouhaha which resulted in Weiner resigning his House seat.  Last week he started putting down Ted Cruz. Ted Cruz is the latest and greatest Demo target.

  • Gringo

    Phrased another way:  Ted Cruz is the Demo’s current Emmanuel Goldstein

  • Charles Martel

    Gringo has drinks with his friend on Friday, October 11: “Isn’t it glorious, Gringo, that Obama has announced that the chocolate ration will be increased to 30 grams per week?”
    Gringo has drinks with his friend on Friday, October 18: “Isn’t it wonderful, Gringo, that Obama has announced that the chocolate ration will be increased to 20 grams per week?”

  • Michael Adams


  • gpc31

    Denby is a loathsome character by his own account.  Here’s the Publisher’s Weekly description of his autobiographical work, “American Sucker”:
    “I wanted to be wealthy,” Denby bluntly admits near the end of this absorbing memoir of the dot-com boom and bust. “I didn’t make it.” Like millions of other amateur investors in 2000 and 2001, Denby (Great Books) was swept along by greed, by the nearly messianic belief that the stock market offered easy opportunities for unlimited prosperity. Denby sunk hundreds of thousands of dollars into the Nasdaq, digested unhealthy amounts of CNBC and the Wall Street Journal and forged friendships with some of the era’s brightest stars (and, later, its most public criminals). He lost his balance in the excess of the time-stock tickers in strip clubs; parties at executives’ lofts-and then lost his money when the market crashed. (“The ax had swung,” Denby writes, “and heads lay all over the ground.”) Though exceedingly well written, Denby’s portrait of the great “Dot Con” generally echoes the sentiments of other, similarly themed books about the period. The work is more appealing when Denby focuses on himself: he had nearly suffered a nervous breakdown when his wife of 18 years left him, and making enough money to buy out her share of their apartment was his initial motivation for investing in the market. Denby brutally details his decline, from a night of impotence to an affair with a married woman, then a six-month obsession with Internet porn-harrowing stuff for a New Yorker staff writer. His dissection of his own Upper West Side narcissism offers some of the most candid critiques of the Manhattan bourgeoisie ever found outside of a Woody Allen film.”

  • Texan99

    Yep, all the things that went wrong with his life can be traced to the villainy of people like Cruz!

  • Jose

    BW, your collage reminds me that while watching this evenings news coverage of the Obamacare hearings, it occurred to me to wonder if Henry Waxman is now eligible for plastic surgery to repair his nose.
    If ever a repulsive exterior reflected internal corruption…

  • Oldflyer

    I suppose that what Denby thinks or writes is important to someone; but, fortunately not to me.
    My wife gets very frustrated with me because I simply will not listen to people with whom I know that I will disagree; and whom I know will annoy me.  For starters, I do not trust what they say.  I may, as she suggests, have my head in the sand, or be small minded; but I am at peace with my limitations.  (I do get news and opinion, but I am selective about the source.).  Am I alone?

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    This guy’ll be lucky enough to earn a spot on the list. We got more important people to take care of first.


    Oldflyer: No one should have to eat stale and tasteless food when you can choose from the menu and eat what you enjoy. You are not alone.

  • jj

    Never heard of Denby.  Don’t feel deprived on that account.

  • Pingback: Bookworm Room » I’m not the only one noticing the Emanuel Goldsteining of Ted Cruz()

  • Murray Lawrence

    During one of my years as a teaching assistant in the mid ’60s, I graded Denby’s midterm and final papers for Columbia’s revered Andrew Chiappe in his Shakespeare course at the college. The way we worked was to read half the total papers each grading session during the semester, exchange them for the other half, and then review our grades, which were almost always in sync. In all that output over three consecutive years, Denby’s were the only papers that made us scratch our heads, because they always seemed to hover on the edge of intelligence without ever actually saying anything worth knowing or thinking about.

  • Murray Lawrence

    Where did all that weirdness come from above my post?


    Where did all that weirdness come from above my post?
    They’re Denby’s footnotes?

  • Charles Martel

    Sadie, funny!
    Murray, I’ve had the same thing happen to me whenever I’ve written my comments in a Word doc then tried to paste them here.

  • http://bookwormroom.com Bookworm

    Murray, I fixed your post.  Charles is correct, that it’s a problem that almost certainly comes from composing in word and then pasting into WordPress.  I don’t know of any easy fix, other than not composing in word.

    As for your comments about Denby, that sounds exactly right, since it’s still the way he writes today.  He tends to cover for lack of originality by using Leftist tropes that always leave his readers cheering.  They don’t want originality; they just want same old, same old.

    Sadie — I hope one day to meet you in person so that I can sit at your feet and laugh with delight at your extraordinarily rich sense of humor.

  • Ron19

    Back when I composed replies in Word, I found out that copy and paste to Notepad cleaned up a lot of the unnecessary stuff from Word, then I would fix up the Notepad version, and copy and paste it to the WordPress reply block.
    Nowadays I do small replies in WordPress and keep clicking on Preview at the bottom of the box, and fix things on the next page to show up.  For long or complicated stuff, I do it in Notepad, then work in WordPress.  Lots of reviewing, editing, and previewing gets me pretty clean copy in the final Post version.
    These days, you only see me make careless, sloppy replies when I get careless about reviewing.

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    The comment section here doesn’t parse html and various other codes correctly.
    So rich html or word may have formatting it doesn’t recognize. Also the preview will kill the line breaks too.

  • Murray Lawrence

    Thanks for the advice, people. From now on, I will avoid pasting from Word lest I generate more textual gibberish that might be misconstrued as Denby’s notes. Delicious reply, Sadie.